Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ignosticism Advanced: And on Referential Justification



Over the past 10 years, I’ve developed the concept of ignosticism into a formal demonstration that can either prove or disprove the existence of God.

In a nutshell, ignosticism asks you to describe “God.”

Simple enough, right? It’s not as easy as it sounds.

When a person says they have a belief in God, what is it they mean by "God"?

One might say God is three in one. Another might say none is greater than God.

Both are fine definitions.

The problem arises when competing definitions for the same God negate each other.

Three is not one.

So, what is it we are talking about? How can we talk about a self-negating concept? It’s nonsensical. We can’t speak meaningfully of it.

Hence, the ignostic holds religious people tend to presume too much about God.

The description part is to test the coherence of the object being described. Many theological descriptions of God are sophisticated but incoherent.

So, what is it we are talking about? How can we talk about an incoherent concept? It’s nonsensical. We can’t speak meaningfully of it.

Hence, the ignostic holds religious people must provide a meaningful description of God before the topic of God can carry any real meaning, regardless of the meaning they imbue their concept with before offering a demonstration.

Unable to do this, the term God is rendered meaningless and so irrelevant. 

Most theological demonstrations of God's existence or attributes are logical conceptualizations, but they often fall apart when compared to competing demonstrations which change the description of God.

The key is finding religious templates that are logical and internally coherent.

Once we have these we can test the descriptions against the referent—whether tangible or conceptual. 

A tangible referent would be the physical thing itself, like an apple. A conceptual referent would be something like Democracy or Capitalism. They are concepts, but they work and they function and can be measured and have an observable effect on the societies that adopt them.

Now ignosticism is only designed to determine the immediate relevance of your description. Unable to describe God in any meaningful way undermines one’s belief in God by demonstrating that God isn’t worth discussing because the concept of God (as provided by the person of faith) is meaningless.

I take it one step further by asking one to provide a justification of their description (I call this step a Referential Justification).

There are three parts to this: 

1) Provide a comprehensible description (comprehensible so as to be meaningful) 

2) provide a referential justification—the thing itself or a defeasible concept—for said description (otherwise it gets classified as an unreal conceptualization)

3) determine if your description is accurate by comparing it to the description of an impartial 3rd party (otherwise go back to square one).

Easy enough, right?

You’d be surprised

Referential Justification is designed to help us justify our terms by showing they mean what we think they mean. 

This is part of the area of English theory known as semantics--better known as the study of the meaning of words and how they come to acquire their meanings. 

And this relates in an important way back to epistemology, the study of knowledge and how we know what we know. Because, when you think about the standard phrases the devout typically use when talking about God is it usually something like "I know God exists," and "God is real" the question arises, how do they know?

Saying that "God exists" may be faith-based propositions, sure. But it's also a truth claim. And taking such a belief for granted doesn't prove the belief is true, even if one believes with all their heart they are.

All my advancement of ignosticism seeks to do is justify these claims as true. 

And that would be a big win for the believer!

It provides a powerful tool to justify one's terms so we can understand they are speaking about true and real things, and thereby avoid the ignostic's criticism that a person of faith's God-talk is meaningless.

So it is to the benefit of the believer that they should always apply a Referential Justification to their terminology so as to not run into any semantic problems where the words they are using actually don't describe what they are talking about. Because this is where the underlying confusion lies--if the definition of "God" doesn't mean what they think it means or it means something else entirely, then they cannot presume to know God is real or that God exists, because the term has no inherent meaning and so no value in the discussion.

This, of course, means we're dealing with a higher order of specificity than people are typically accustomed to using when they talk about broad concepts. It means, if we are going to make the specific claim that something is real and that it has certain properties, then we must be expected to show the work. 

Show the relationship between your claim and the description you want others to accept as valid so that we know you're not assuming more than you can possibly know about the thing you are talking about. 

Basically, it's a way to check if someone is haphazardly fabricating their ideas or else actually offering us a real description of something in a way we can talk about meaningfully.

It's not controversial. It's necessary.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist